Season 10 is much, much more than just another Hyundai A League season.
That it represents a decade of what I like to describe as “seriously full-time football” is significant in its own right given the part-time nature of the players and generally amateurish administration of the old NSL...I can say that because I lived through it and survived. This time around is a landmark because it will be the platform from which the game will launch its future.
Football, soccer, call it what you will has come of age over the previous nine seasons. I could liken it to the development of a player where the NSL was its somewhat extended childhood and teen years when we learnt, albeit slowly, about the basics, making lots of mistakes along the way and many times repeating them through the teens until the penny finally dropped and we started getting our game together.
Into the early adulthood of the Hyundai A-League when we matured and began to look like footballers, making adult decisions, responsible life decisions that affected future outcomes and now, fully grown and ready to stake our claim as the country's premier football code.
There's enough maturity, enough self-belief and self-esteem to make a bold statement like that...we have been around long enough to back ourselves. The timing is right!
What got me to thinking this way?
David Gallop’s State of the Game address a couple of weeks ago. The game has made enormous progress in these past 10 years. It has taken prodigious steps, no, it has bounded into the mainstream sporting landscape. The game is, as Gallop said, “in a golden period".
That’s why the timing is right.
Look at the facts - three successive World Cups have propelled the game into mainstream consciousness and nurtured a whole generation of Socceroo (and football) supporters.
Kids have been brought up on a steady diet of international football, whether it be the Socceroos on the world stage or the stream of overseas competitions provided by Fox Sports and the like.
Whatever their background, whether their parents and aunties and uncles and cousins played or followed soccer or aussie rules or league or union, they are growing up with the game because it is everywhere now. Unlike the old NSL days, even right up to its dying breath, there was no media coverage.
Then we have the coverage of the Hyundai A-League which has been outstanding and has got better year by year. Fox cover every minute of every game and the whole package creates excitement and builds enthusiasm.
The game is broadcast on radio, it has far more print space than ever before, not to mention the enormous exposure it has through social media which is probably a more significant assessment of where we are really at these days.
On the field the football gets better each season as the accumulated impact of year after year of professional training and advanced methodology takes effect.
Off-field the game now has a serious commercial and corporate component that is responsible for its growth and increasing revenue, now and into the future.
Gallop's speech got me excited because he talked about "unity of purpose", the coming together of all of its stakeholders, something that had always been talked about and wished for by many but never brought to fruition because of the old way of doing things.
There is a plan for the Whole of Football, a serious one that will grow the game.
I was around at the beginning of the NSL in 1977 and I remember the excitement that surrounded it, sadly to be replaced by disappointment at successive failures because of a continual string of issues that I’d rather forget.
I was lucky enough to still be around when the Hyundai A-League began in 2005 and that same excitement was back. After years of decay and stagnation there was a new beginning, a re-birth and a whole new way of doing business; there was plenty to get excited about.
I can still remember clearly the night of the first Hyunda A-League game between Adelaide and the Jets in Newcastle. There were 18,000 fans as I recall and it was a buzz.
The fans are back now; in fact, the experts are predicting a record season. So tell me, am I right to say we can now become the number one football code in this country?
I dare you to say I’m wrong.
The season kicks off this Friday night live from 7.30pm AEDT on SBS ONE.
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